Yesterday, the Pulitzer Prizes announced the winners for what they perceived to be the best journalism from print and digital news outlets in 2020. This is a day journalists sit on the edge of their seats for in great anticipation. This year, the announcement was delayed until June when it’s usually done in April. So, the anxiety for journalists is intensified and prolonged. The journalists waiting for this include political cartoonists.
After much waiting and anticipation, the Pulitzer Prize Committee slapped the entire profession of political cartooning in the face. Even for those cartoonists who didn’t enter, slappity slap slap. No prize for you. Can we have our entry fees returned? I mean, we entered because you gave us the impression there would be a winner. Even the Soup Nazi gave George Costanza a refund.
Yesterday, the Pulitzer people refused to give their annual award to a political cartoonist. Why? We don’t know. Some cartoonists believe it was racist because the three finalists consisted of a Native American, a Latino, and a Jew. But, being that these are journalism awards, let’s use journalism ethics and not make accusations where there is no proof or evidence. Besides, the Pulitzers give out lots of awards to minorities. There are probably minorities on the committees. Are you going to argue there are no Jews at The New York Times? So, colleagues, let that one go unless you have proof. Let’s not prove the Pulitzers right by not using journalism ethics, mkay?
Another cartoonist believes it’s because all three finalists were “alternative” cartoonists, as in, not traditional daily cartoonists. Yeah, I don’t know. Again, it’s an assumption.
The three finalists are Marty Two Bulls, Ken Fisher (who draws as Ruben Bolling and creates Tom the Dancing Bug), and Lalo Alcaraz. Lalo was a finalist last year too, so maybe if it was an actual tie this year the judges couldn’t choose from, then maybe they should have given it to the guy who was exceptional enough to be a finalist two years in a row. But that’s just me and I am a little biased because Lalo is a friend, though I honestly believe his work is amazeballs. He does a lot of cartoons that make me say, “I wish I had thought of that.”
What also hurts is that the Pulitzers created a special citation, not from any categories, to hand out to non-journalist Darnella Frazier. Sure, she deserves a special citation, but the Pulitzers created a new award while not giving one in another category. Maybe that’s how they decided to pay Ms. Frazier the prize money, by taking it from cartoonists.
There is outrage all over social media over this slap in the face. Former Pulitzer Prize winner Ann Telnaes has expressed outrage over this. The Association of American Editorial Cartoonists has released a statement. There is a great write-up of this at the Daily Cartoonist by Mike Peterson. And now, I have chimed in. I put off drawing for a day a cartoon on Trump’s spying on political enemies for this. Let’s strike while the iron is hot.
Yesterday, after I made a few tweets about this (and my joke is lifted directly from one of my tweets), one of my cynical detractors tweeted at me, “Tell us where the bad Pulitzer Prizes hurt you.” The thing is, they didn’t hurt me. They didn’t hurt me because it’s not about me.
The day before the announcement, one of my colleagues wrote several comments on another colleague’s Facebook post about the award. The original poster was writing about how the prize was important but then again, not so much. He was critical of it. The guy who replied informed everyone that he did not enter because he never wins. In fact, he was going to stop entering another contest, the Herblock, because he’s never won that one either. He wrote, “Goodbye, Felicia.” Shame on Felicia for not rewarding his brilliance.
He made it about himself. It’s not about him. And it’s not about me. It’s not about any one specific cartoonist. I totally get being disappointed when you don’t win. I’m disappointed every year by every freaking contest (usually). But, I’m not going to boycott a contest because they didn’t give me an award or a check. Nobody owes me an award. They don’t owe my colleague an award. Even the three finalists for this year’s Pulitzer aren’t owed an award, but they are owed an explanation. Since it’s about all of us, we’re all owed an explanation. As Ricky would say to Lucy: Pulitzers, “You got some ‘splaining to do.”
I don’t think you should make it personal when you don’t win…but I do think it’s fair to be critical of who wins…or more to the point…what wins.
If I were to boycott an award, it would be because it only rewards really bad stuff, like pro-Trump shit. Or the winner works for a disinformation outlet like Sputnik, or he’s Ben Garrison (this has not happened, but you never know). Another contest this year gave its first place to a cartoonist who was hired to replace a guy fired for drawing cartoons criticizing Trump. The replacement who won this contest draws cartoons about cancel culture. If award judges can’t recognize irony then they shouldn’t be judging political cartoons. Those would be good reasons to boycott.
There has been outrage in the past over who won the Pulitzer Prize for editorial cartoons when the winners were still cartoonists. The comic strip Doonsebury won in the 1970s and the guys who draw traditional political cartoons were livid (before my time in the biz, but I read about it). About a decade later, Bloom County won and political cartoonists nearly stormed Columbia University like a bunch of MAGA terrorists attacking the Capitol. That was also before my time in the business, but some guys are still bitching about it.
A few years ago, one cartoonist won the award and half his entry (they could include up to 20 cartoons at that time) were animations. Another cartoonist wrote a long column criticizing this decision saying the animations didn’t provide any commentary and were just jingles about politics. Another year, the entire winning entry consisted of animated political cartoons, though those were heavy in commentary (and quite brilliant). I actually don’t recall any complaining about that one but I’m sure someone somewhere was grumbling.
In the 2000s, a conservative won his second Pulitzer and a lot of his colleagues were disappointed because his cartoons didn’t question power, didn’t comfort the afflicted, and didn’t call out the bad guys. No. They supported coverups in the Bush administration. One of the cartoons in the package was about Sheryl Crow doing her part for the environment by not using toilet paper. Maybe the Pulitzer judges really hated her cover of “First Cut is the Deepest.” I know I did.
Another episode that triggered cartoonists was when the main committee rejected the three finalists and picked another cartoonist from the batch who didn’t make the original cut. One of his cartoons eloquently pointed out that Monica Lewinsky was “thick” and Gennifer Flowers was not as thick. Seriously.
There have been times when the winning entry didn’t question authority, or all the cartoons were lazy clichés, or the cartoons were more gag and not actual editorializing. And, a lot of times cartoonists were upset over the winners because they just thought they just simply sucked. Usually, someone was upset because s/he didn’t win. But, nobody is owed an award.
What’s more troubling is now you can win a Pulitzer Prize for editorial cartooning without drawing an editorial cartoon. This is true and it’s happened.
A few years ago, the Pulitzers gave the top prize for editorial cartooning to a graphic series in a publication. It was shared between the artist and the writer. This was some outstanding journalism but it was not an editorial cartoon. The writer has a Pulitzer for editorial cartooning and he doesn’t draw. Has the Pulitzer for best photo been given to someone who doesn’t take photos?
A couple years ago, they gave the Pulitzer to Barry Blitt. Barry is a Facebook friend of mine and I don’t mean to disparage his accomplishment, but he’s heard this before. His artwork was for magazine covers. Though his artwork is excellent, they’re not editorial cartoons. The word is, the judges didn’t even pick him…but once again, the finalists were rejected by the larger committee and they went for the magazine guy.
The Pulitzer people must have heard the outrage so they changed a few things. For this year’s contest, the eligibility for the prize for editorial cartooning read, “For editorial cartooning and other illustrated work.”
What the hell is “other illustrated work?” It’s anything that was in a print or online news publication…almost any online news publication.
This year, after I had labored for many hours putting my Pulitzer package together and had made my submission, the Pulitzer people contacted me and said, “Nope. You gotta take something out. It doesn’t qualify.”
Here’s the thing, kids: This year, the number of cartoons that can be in a package was reduced from 20 to 15. Your typical political cartoonist will draw about 300 cartoons a year. I draw over 400. So, on most days, I’m not drawing a cartoon that will be considered for a contest. Most days, the cartoon I drew for that day will be rejected by myself for a contest. So, all the contest judges out there are seeing just a tiny itty bitty teensy fraction of my work to consider as the best of all cartoons of the year. The same goes for most of my colleagues.
One of the reasons I draw so many cartoons is because I also draw for CNN once a week. This year, I included one of my CNN cartoons. I really liked it too. But, the Pulitzer people told me it didn’t qualify. They only told me why after I asked. They said it didn’t qualify because CNN is a broadcast outlet, not a print or digital one. I buy that explanation except…it was only published digitally. It was drawn for their weekly newsletter…which is digital. It was also published on my website…which is also digital. So, digital news outlets are OK unless they’re owned by a broadcast network? Aren’t there newspapers owned by cable networks? Doesn’t Cox own the Atlanta Journal-Constitution? Does that mean the AJC doesn’t qualify?
I am grateful the Pulitzer people allowed me to replace that cartoon for another cartoon for them to later reject, but I still have an issue over this. Technically, based upon their description of “other illustrated work,” the USA Today weather map is more eligible for the Pulitzer Prize in editorial cartooning than my CNN editorial cartoon.
Let’s say I don’t deserve a Pulitzer Prize. A lot of people do say that. But again, it’s not about me. But my profession deserves the Pulitzer. My profession deserves that respect. We are in a time when newspapers are firing their cartoonists and laying them off. A cartoonist was literally fired for drawing about Donald Trump. He took a stand that cost him a job he had for over 30 years. That doesn’t deserve a Pulitzer?
The Pulitzer Prize just gave back-up to every editor who believes he doesn’t need a cartoon in his publication. The Pulitzer Prize just gave credibility to the argument that political cartoons are not journalism. Sure, there are bad cartoonists. There are cartoonists who are hacks. But I personally have a short list in my head of brilliant political cartoonists who deserve the recognition of a Pulitzer Prize.
I don’t know if we have any Herblocks, Oliphants, or Conrads in our ranks today. And I believe there are more cartoonists drawing crap than there are cartoonists doing great work. But, I think the few cartoonists who are drawing great cartoons are creating some of the best cartoons in the history of political cartoons.
We had a year of cartoons covering the covid pandemic, an administration covering it up and suggesting everyone drink bleach, a presidential election, and a fascist-wannabe president claiming he won when he lost. Surely, at least one cartoonist in the United States of America drew some cartoons on those subjects good enough for a Pulitzer Prize. The Pulitzers just disrespected my entire industry and skipped an opportunity to award its top prize to someone who’s long deserved it and hasn’t received it yet, like Rob Rogers, Pat Bagley, Kevin Kallaugher, Mike Thompson, Bill Bramhall, and one of this year’s finalists, Lalo Alcaraz.
My cartoon above is correct. I have the kind of humor that doesn’t win Pulitzer Prizes. The proof of that is, I don’t have a Pulitzer Prize. And, I’ll prove it again next year because this cartoon will be included in my Pulitzer Prize entry. I’m not going to include it because I actually believe it’s great or worthy of a Pulitzer Prize.
The Pulitzer Prize just took a dump on my entire profession. I’m including this cartoon in my 2021 entry because I am forcing the Pulitzer Prize people to see it.
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